NHS Tayside has saved more than £14 million in the last financial year, but a watchdog has said change has come too slow.
A report from Audit Scotland found £14.3 million of recurring savings had been made at the board in 2019-20, which is 40% of the total funding gap it currently faces.
However it was still forced to seek a £7 million bailout from the Scottish Government – the eighth year in a row it has sought such support to break even.
Auditors have said changes to the delivery of services have been “too slow” and the current financial position of the board is “not sustainable”.
The report said: “In 2019/20, recurring savings of £14.3 million (40% of the funding gap of £35.7 million) were reported.
“This situation is not sustainable for the board in the longer term because it results in the board having to identify new savings sources each year and puts further pressure on finances.”
The board has an “expensive operating model”, the auditors claimed, with staffing, in-patient and prescription charges above the Scottish average, and work is needed to restructure the service and bring down costs.
Auditor general Stephen Boyle said: “NHS Tayside has made some clear progress under its new leadership team after a number of very challenging years, but it still faces a number of risks.
“The board knows that achieving financial stability lies in changing the way its services are designed and delivered.
“We’ve already seen how Covid-19 has accelerated innovation in some areas. It’s now essential that NHS Tayside builds on that good work and increases the pace of change in priority services.”
NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald said: “This report covers the last financial year up to March 2020 and signals a sustainable improvement across the board in terms of both our financial position and, importantly, service performance for our patients.”
Mr Archibald said the board is on track to break even in the next three financial years, according to its own projections.
However, the projections were made before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and Audit Scotland said the board will “revisit” its financial plan “later in the year”.
Mr Archibald also praised the work of staff, saying: “Their efforts have never been so important nor so critical to the people of Tayside than in the last nine months and I would like to take this further opportunity to thank all of them for their ongoing hard work.
“Our priority, of course, remains the immediate response to Covid-19, particularly as we are now entering winter and the additional pressures that introduces into our already extremely busy hospitals and community care settings.
“However, the progress we have made over the past two years means that we are confident we are best placed to look ahead and plan for the medium and long-term response to the pandemic – and the important transformation of services that will be required across health and social care services in Scotland.”